Jesuit's Nelson Thrives in Many Roles

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

August 31, 2016

DETROIT – Scott Nelson and his football coaches at U-D Jesuit are doing their best to deter specialization.

Nelson, a senior defensive back/receiver, was the sixth man on the U-D team that won the school’s first basketball MHSAA title, in Class A, this past spring. He started in the outfield on the school’s varsity baseball team as a sophomore – although he chose not to play baseball this past season so as to concentrate on football and basketball.

“When I grew up I just played sports,” Nelson said. “I stopped playing hockey to play football.

“I love competing. I love playing sports.”

U-D is an all-male private school located on the city’s northwest side. The academic curriculum is demanding, and most students who attend the Jesuit school choose to go there for that reason without the thought of participating in athletics. Some programs have thrived; the school's basketball, soccer and bowling teams have won MHSAA championships over the last 15 years, while the baseball, tennis and lacrosse teams have finished Finals runners-up. 

It’s different for coach Oscar Olejniczak’s football program. Participation is a must for football coaches. They need players, and lots of them, to conduct practices properly. U-D has not been able to field a junior varsity team the past two seasons. Olejniczak has 44 on varsity, which is a workable number, but it is paramount that the good athletes in the school participate in more than one sport to help fill out the rosters.

“I encourage every one of our players to play two sports,” Olejniczak said. “If they play three sports, no problem, but academics is so tough here that two is all most can handle.

“When you play two sports … it helps them 100 percent. Each sport uses different muscles. It helps with hand-eye coordination. 

 “It’s a big mistake when you play one sport. People get into their ear. I’m sorry to say sometimes it comes from the coaches.”

It’s likely Nelson could have played any one of the three sports in college. In the end he chose football for the simple fact that he likes it more than the others. Nevertheless, he fully intends on playing basketball this winter. And why not? He’ll have a chance to start on a team that’ll once again be one of the state’s best.

“I’m biased,” Nelson said. “Multiple sports give you different skills. Basketball gives me that. You have to be in great shape to play basketball. On the basketball court, I’m not the best player. That helped me mentally. Playing with Cassius (Winston, now at Michigan State), people aren’t concentrating on you. That’s fine. Let me do my role. And that’s what I’ll do, and I’ll do my best. In football it’s different. I am an important part. With my coaches, they know I shouldn’t have a bad game. I put pressure on myself. I know I can make the big plays.”

Defensive coordinator George Harris knew that before Nelson did. Nelson played on the freshmen team before he was moved up to the varsity in time for the 2013 Division 2 playoffs. Not only did he dress, but Nelson was shocked to learn he would start that first playoff game against Warren Woods Tower.

“A senior was late for team prayer service,” Harris said. “We have rules here, and we suspended him for the first quarter. So I asked (Nelson) if he knew the coverages and everything. His eyes got real big.

“His football I.Q. was high for a young kid. He wasn’t afraid of the moment. That year we had a (preseason) 7-on-7 scrimmage and he had six interceptions in one game. I said, oh my goodness. He has a lot more confidence now. He’s more physical. That comes from just growing into his body. I can pull things out of his brain, and we can now talk the same language.”   

The skills the other sports taught him undoubtedly made Nelson a better football player. At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, he’ll likely play safety in college. Northwestern is the lone school that’s recruiting him to play receiver. The other schools that have offered him a scholarship want him to play defense. Nelson has narrowed his choices down to five: Northwestern, Iowa, Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin.

Nelson is coming off of what was a breakthrough season. He accounted for 21 touchdowns, which came passing (2), rushing (13), receiving (4) and on kick returns (2).

This season he was not expected to play quarterback, but he was pressed into service, due to injury, in the opener at Detroit Mumford. The Cubs led 2-0 late in the first half and prevailed, 23-14.

As far as his college future, Nelson is uncertain whether he’ll make his decision during the season or after.

There’s no hurry. The Cubs, which made the playoffs last fall losing to eventual Division 2 champion Detroit Martin Luther King 35-24 in a Pre-District, are optimistic that they’ll make a return trip.

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTO: Scott Nelson (10) eludes a pursuing defender. (Photo courtesy of U-D Jesuit/Brent Wilkerson.)

Mendon 8-Player Championship Game Run Paced by Record-Setting Rushing

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

May 26, 2023

Mendon’s run to the Division 2 Final last fall included some of the strongest rushing performances over the history of 8-player football.

The Hornets ran for 4,317 yards, second-most all-time, on the second-most attempts (520) and with a record-setting 682 yards Oct. 14 against Marcellus. Mendon also set the record for total offense with 692 total in that game, and made the single-season touchdowns list with 76 including 66 rushing (also second on that list).

Junior Jack McCaw made the single-season scoring list with 212 points, most coming on 29 touchdowns, and Evan Lukeman made the single-game rushing list with 401 yards against Marcellus. Mendon’s defense also earned praise, twice making the fewest-first-downs-allowed list with a low of three.

See below for more recent additions to the 8-player portion of the football record book:

8-Player Football

Athens’ Landon Bennett earned a pair of record book entries after reaching the end zone seven times during his team’s 72-0 win over Burr Oak on Sept. 8. His seven scores are tied for third-most in 8-player history and included three rushing, three on punt returns and one on an interception return. The three punt return touchdowns are a record. Bennett is a junior.

On the night Powers North Central broke its 8-player record for consecutive wins, claiming its 28th straight, senior Luke Gorzinski tied Jets great Jason Whitens for the record for interception touchdowns in a game with two, scoring on returns during the second and fourth quarters. Gorzinski has signed with Michigan Tech, and North Central’s winning streak is 37 games and counting.

A pair of Atlanta offensive playmakers and a top defensive lineman earned a total of seven entries in the record book for achievements last fall. Senior quarterback Tyler Currie threw for 30 touchdowns over eight games, and also made the records for six touchdowns and 419 passing yards against Whittemore-Prescott on Sept. 23; the passing yards are second-most for one 8-player game. Sophomore Landon Galea was added for 263 yards and five of those touchdowns against the Cardinals, and also for 1,418 yards receiving and 23 touchdowns over nine games. Junior teammate Tucker Kendrick made the tackles for loss list with five against Hillman on Oct. 6.

Adrian Lenawee Christian senior Brady McKelvey became the first to make the career extra points list in 8-player football this past fall. He bettered his previous single-season record making 64 of 66 extra-point attempts over 11 games and finishing his two-year varsity career with 123 extra points in 127 tries.

Sam McKissack reached the record book showcasing multiple skills for Crystal Falls Forest Park during the 2021 season – twice for rushing attempts in a game including with a record 59 against Ontonagon that Sept. 10, and then with a record 70-yard punt Oct. 30, 2021, against Lake Linden-Hubbell. Teammate Devon Basirico also made the record book with six fumble recoveries over 11 games that season. As a team, Forest Park was added twice for single-game rushing attempts – including 73 total in that Ontonagon game – and for 424 rushes over 11 games for the season. McKissack and Basirico are seniors this spring.

Nikolaus Lewis tied for eighth-most rushing touchdowns in an 8-player game when he reached the end zone six times for Carsonville-Port Sanilac in its win over Caseville on Oct. 7. He’s a senior this spring.

Bridgman has won 24 straight games over the last three seasons, and an exceptional offense – and exceptional offensive star – have played major roles. The Bees were added for 658 total yards in a win over Lawrence last season, that total ranking third all-time, and also 613 yards in a win over Eau Claire. Those included totals of 575 and 547 rushing yards, respectively, and Bridgman was added for 3,598 rushing yards (sixth on the list), 59 rushing touchdowns (fourth) and 76 total touchdowns (seventh). Senior Reid Haskins capped his four-year, 32-game varsity career with 13 record book entries, including for 254 points last season over nine games (tied for fifth all-time) and a record 620 career points, 41 touchdowns last season (fifth) and a record 95 for his career, 2,344 rushing yards last season (third) and a record 5,206 for his career, and 41 rushing touchdowns last season (third) and a record 94 for his career. Senior teammate Tanner Peters made the records three times including for 50 extra points last season (fourth) and 99 over 26 games and three seasons (second on the career list).

Mio's Austin Fox rewrote the 8-player passing record book this past fall, with his 621 yards in a game against Whittemore-Prescott setting a single-game record as he totaled four of the five-highest passing yardage totals. He also set a record with 3,516 over nine games for the season, another record with 289 passing attempts over those nine games and a third record for nine touchdown passes in that game against the Cardinals. His 41 touchdown passes total rank fourth. Teammates Gage Long and Nathan Hurst also earned several record book entries on the receiving end of those passes. Long’s 297 receiving yards against Whittemore-Prescott were tied for third most, and Hurst’s 266 against Alcona rank eighth. Long set a single-season record with 1,739 receiving yards, with Hurst sixth all-time at 1,321, and Long’s 14 receptions against the Cardinals and 70 for the season also rank second on those respective lists. Hurst set a record for longest 8-player kickoff return with a 99-yarder against St. Helen Charlton Heston. All three are seniors.

Peck was one of the first MHSAA 8-player champions, claiming the title in 2013, and Cody Abrego one of the state’s first 8-player stars. The Pirates were added to the MHSAA record book 52 times, and Abrego 14 times individually. Among the most notable entries for the 2015 graduate were for 462 points scored over his two-season career (ranking sixth all-time), 74 career touchdowns (sixth), 2,202 rushing yards in 2013 (fifth) and 35 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (sixth). Current senior Caleb Lentner was one of the stars statewide this past season, and he was added eight times including for 50 points scored in a game (ranking second), 272 points for a season last fall (fifth), eight touchdowns in a game (tied for second), 42 touchdowns in a season (fifth), an 8-player record of 2,694 rushing yards from last season, and 38 rushing touchdowns also last fall (fourth). Others to make the individual lists were Nathan Robar, Caleb Dudley, Steven VanConant, Kyle Abrego and Nathan Neihaus, Dudley for a record 20 career interceptions over two seasons and VanConant for a record 12 tackles for loss in a 2022 game and 36 tackles for loss for the season last fall. The Pirates also are all over the 8-player team record book, including for a record 97 touchdowns in 2013, a record 5,895 yards of total offense that season, 528 carries, 4,346 rushing yards and 73 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (all ranking second); and 24 interceptions in 2014, which ranks second on that list.

Senior quarterback JR Hildebrand was one of the most dynamic players in 8-player football in the fall in leading Martin to the Division 1 title. He had one of his most exciting nights in a playoff opener against Tekonsha, making the single-game touchdown pass list with six in a 68-6 victory.

PHOTO Mendon’s Jack McCaw (21) eludes a tackle during the 8-Player Division 2 Final in November at Northern Michigan University. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)